One of Sheila’s cows fell ill with mastitis (Staphylococcus aureus), which should be easily treatable with penicillin, but it evolved into blue udder and gas gangrene, which the new vet, Gordon Strick, told us was often a fatal disease. He did what he could. Sheila put a stretcher bed at the side of the suffering animal and slept there. The cow’s skin seemed to have air bubbles under it so that it sounded a bit like bubble-wrap when you passed your hand over it.
I placed my hands lightly on the cow and asked the Powers That Be for help. Gordon was amazed that the cow recovered.
Sheila was furious. It was not my hocus pocus but the vet’s attentions and her dedication that had healed the animal!
(In years to come, when we had a sick animal, she would apply her nursing skills and modern medicine, then she would say: “Alright, now bring those healing hands!” just in case. And sometimes we lost animals, despite both best efforts… )
As the bulk of the Basil Read Construction Naboomspruit-Nylstroom road contract neared its end, we were all concerned about our future. Tenders were few and far between. We lost a nearby dam construction contract, and a road contract near Tosca in the north-west of South Africa. Then we netted a contract in the village of Maun, Botswana. John Riley, appointed as site-agent, phoned to ask me if I would be prepared to go as site surveyor. Knowing that there was no alternative, I agreed, but I admit to a mounting excitement about seeing more of Africa. Sheila demanded to know how often I would be home as the work would be more than a thousand kilometres away. Nobody could say, at that stage.
The process of visas, work and residence permit application began. I also needed clearance to take Mack, my Staffordshire terrier side-kick with me. Isaac, my survey assistant, would go with me as well, so his own documentation needed addressing.
While awaiting these papers, I continued work on the Naboom contract, but with some time on my hands, I wrote my Jed Stories, about my friend Charles Howard, the snake man. I sent two of them to The Farmer’s Weekly, without result. Also, I began to input my story of Purgatory Road into the work computer, although it would not be published before 2008.
Among my other interests of the time, undiminished to this day, were steam engines, especially steam tractors. I drove to Johannesburg in mid-May, 1991 to attend the “Live Steamers” exhibition at the Transport Museum at Wemmer Pan.
John Talbot, an engineer and steam fundi, together with his fellow enthusiasts, had refurbished a 1937 Fowler steam-roller. They ceremonially cooked a breakfast of bacon and eggs on a clean coal shovel over the fire box as the pressure gauge needle climbed, before slowly steaming out of the shed and into the gardens to greet the public for the first time in many years! I told John about all the steam tractors I had seen in Mozambique at the Sena Sugar Estate at Morromeu, Mozambique. Brian Colley, ex- manager there, had told me on the phone that there had been about fifty steam tractors there in his day, all out of commission, except for one that he had had repaired and fired up to low pressure, afraid that the boiler would burst, to be brought to stand as a monument in front of his offices!
Before the Botswana contract started, my friend and boss, chief surveyor, Pedro Ferreira, working near the Lesotho border, had his Nissan Sani stoned (R6000 damage) by local villagers, but he escaped. 2 other vehicles behind his were also stoned and stopped; the occupants stoned to death. A Chinaman had his eyes torn out…
The fire was being stoked, and we sometimes feared that this boiler had been left without a safety valve for too long…